I’ve been traveling for the last couple of weeks in California and then in Aspen. As I go about, I’m always meeting new people and learning about the diverse lives we all live. I’ve been focusing on this idea of belief for a long time and the vivid ways it is displayed in our every day lives. While I’m not focusing exclusively on religious belief, i’m not excluding it either.
I was watching Bill Maher on HBO and the subject of religion came up as it often does. Bill often couches his atheism with a very legitimate question: “What is so wrong with a person saying, ‘I don’t know…’?” When asked if there is a God or a real Heaven or Hell, he simply says “I don’t have the evidence to warrant that belief, so I don’t know.” But then he goes on to point out that 27% of Americans believe God had something to do with the outcome of the Superbowl, which he thought was a pretty pathetic belief. So in just one moment he went from uncertainty, to certainty.
Now I really like Bill Maher and think he is a great thinker, but the problem isn’t limited to atheists. Just examine the beliefs of most Christians and it will make a lot of sense why so many outsiders reject their beliefs.
How many really believe Elijah was swept away in a whirlwind? How many really believe in the miracles of Jesus? His virgin birth, and hold to the idea that that his miracles still happen? No one living today was there to witness any of that, so what is the evidence for believing it?
And when the skeptic asks, why the believer’s life is no better than his own, and why his diseases aren’t healed, and why the mondern day church has little influence (light) and bears even less transformative power in the culture (salt), the answer from most believers is simply; “I don’t know.”
You see, both sides are expressing confidence in those things they believe are in the most conformity to the truth. Both sides employ a lens through which they see the world and that lens is shaped by their beliefs. If a belief is altered, improved, or changed, then the entire worldview shifts incrementally.
That is called progress. But it is also a conversion from false assumptions toward truth. Something from which the whole world benefits.
The issue isn’t about who is a believer and who isn’t, because all people are believers in something. It is really about the basis for that belief and if it can be proven to be true. If you believe you will have a bad day, you probably will. If you believe God is inspiring you through everything in the universe, then He probably is. If you believe there is a scientific explanation for everything, then there probably is. But all presuppose belief or faith.
If a person doesn’t believe in the existence of God or a real Heaven or Hell, then what is their consequence of unbelief? Is it realistic for that to manifest itself before death? Is there really a moral difference between believers and non-believers? History says “No!”
If a person does believe in a real God, his word, his judgement and his redemptive plan, then how do they explain showing up week after week into a church system which is losing ground with the culture they are supposed to be redeeming?
How do they explain pouring billions into buildings, salaries, and programs that benefit primarily believers? All the while the world suffers. Do we need pastors, buildings and programs more than we need cures for disease, poverty, and orphans?
You see both camps have what they see as a legitimate basis for belief. The rub is always in their CERTAINTY.
Regardless of the beleif a person subscribes to, it is the assumption of CERTAINTY that makes that belief unbearable to others who don’t share that perspective. Christians manipulate Jesus’ exclusivity claims to exclude every perspective but theirs. Scientists faith in emperical evidence, while valuable, is often hypocrytically relaxed when they venture into theorhetical cosmology.
One oncologists is certain a drug will reduce cancer, while another sees only its caustic side effects. One religion focuses only on the afterlife while another on this present life. Each person is certain of their own way. How is that possible?
So the take home for us is simple. Believe what soever you will, but don’t get so confident in your certainty. Rather, begin to warm your hands to the fire of other perspectives and test them in light of reason and practicality. If something claims to be the truth, then test it by all the means available to you. If it is true, then it will stand up. Like mathematics, the true answer to a sum is obtainable by all people so long as they do the work correctly. Those who take short cuts or don’t really care, should never expect to have the truth. The point is to pursue truth, knowing we will never possess all of it, but that we will incrementally be transformed by those portions we do.
The by-product of testing truth assumptions is authentic humility. It is the recognition that all people are only partial believers at best. A dialectic of opposing values or claims at truth. People with amazing capacities of discovery and goodness, with amazing capacities of blindness and evil. Humility is something our world could really use more of.
When we grasp this, we begin to function as equals and peers (though uniquely different), and not in sectarian ways. When unity and diversity coexist, something really amazing takes place–progress. That is not only the goal of science, but the hope that is supposed to be called the Church. In fact, I’m willing to bet that wherever in the world this humble-type testing is taking place, we are witnessing the footprint of the real church, the collective of individuals who share a common focus and love for truth and each other